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Regenerative Agriculture: The Future of Farming
By Guest Contributor

By Sarah Reice, 2016 SRI Conference Scholar


Photo courtesy of Luc Viatour

The loss of fertile soil and biodiversity around the world poses a threat to the future of life on the planet. According to scientists, the current rate of soil destruction from erosion, de-carbonization, desertification, and chemical pollution will cause serious damage to public health.

Current farming practices will no longer sustain the food production demanded by the world, nor protect the resources needed for survival. Currently, we are facing grave risks of insufficient food supply, characterized by low nutritional value and loss of vital trace minerals. Without protecting our soil, it will be impossible to feed the world, halt climate change, and end the loss of biodiversity due to both.

What Is at Stake?

Lifetime estimates for top soil are not looking good, creating negative impacts for agriculture across the world. It is expected that we will literally run out of fertile top soil worldwide, putting food production in serious question and creating heightened security issues.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has predicted that worldwide there would be a depletion of top soil in just 60 years. The Environmental Audit Committee to the British House of Commons has estimated that the UK has approximately one generation left of productive top soil. After which, England will not be able to produce food profitably. The Obama administration has added to these estimates, reporting that in the United States alone there would be no top soil left for production at the end of this century.

The Solution

The critical state of agriculture was an important topic discussed during the 27th annual SRI Conference on Sustainable Responsible Impact Investing. As Ricardo Bayon, partner at Encourage Capital, said, "If you care about any environmental issue, everything has agriculture in common."

If you look closely at environmental problems our planet is facing and dig deep enough, agriculture is not only a source for some of the most serious problems but also a solution. Regenerative agriculture presents the opportunity for change in the agricultural, water, and climate sectors. This type of organic agriculture can reverse climate change through the promotion of healthy soil. By building soil health, regenerative agriculture is able to sequester carbon.

How It Works

Regenerative farming implements techniques that improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted into organic matter. Today, excess carbon generally ends up in the oceans creating acidic conditions that threaten ocean plants and animals that are in and of themselves key components in a healthy global ecosystem. With the removal of carbon from both the atmosphere and oceans through the use of regenerative faming, carbon can be sequestered in the soil.

Sequestering more carbon in soils around the world has positive impacts for ground water as well. Soil water battery is what stores water when it rains, but with top soil depletion, rain will erode healthy soil. Sequestering carbon through regenerative agriculture expands the soil's water-holding capacity, which is essential for growing food at the rate that humanity demands. With the use of organically managed soil, the agricultural sector can convert carbon CO2 from a green-house gas into food producing soil, creating drought proof lands and nutrient rich foods.

"Previously, unnecessary harm meant less bad" Rick Ridgeway, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Patagonia revealed, "but, now with regenerative products, they are doing more good." The key to this type of farming is that it not only does zero harm to the land, but actually improves its quality. Because of this, regenerative agriculture leads to more productive farms and healthier economies. Utilizing methods such as conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, and composting farmers are more likely to produce a higher income with this practice as yields exceed those of current conventional methods.

Beyond the Farm

Because chemicals are not used, the impact of regenerative agriculture on wildlands and local environments is extraordinarily positive. Birds return to the land and they help keep insects down and eliminate the need for pesticides. Reducing pesticide use reduces pollution of local watersheds such as streams and lakes.

However, regenerative agriculture cannot be implemented at scale without a shift in our relationship with the environment. A focus must be placed on farming in nature's image, rather than controlling it. This type of farming is fundamentally local, placing attention on a farm-by-farm basis. As a result, regenerative agriculture cannot be considered a generic fix. Because requirements of land are unique, regenerative agriculture harvests more labor-intensive practices, but ultimately creates a more intimate relationship to land.

The Time Is Now

Due to the amount of atmospheric carbon, even eliminating the burning of all fossil fuels worldwide would have no impact on climate change. We have deposited a legacy into the atmosphere, and now must take the responsibility to reverse our impact.

Regenerative agriculture presents an opportunity to reverse global warming. Sure technology can solve our problems, but so can natural processes. The regenerative agriculture solution, if implemented on a global scale, can address virtually all of the problems the world faces today.

Investors play a crucial role in this process, providing funding that is needed to jumpstart this transformation. We don't need new regulations. We can redirect the capital devoted to bad agricultural practice properties and make it work for the common good. We can monetize water savings along with carbon, while also making money on agriculture.

Tom Newmark, Founder and Chair of the Carbon Underground said that regenerative agriculture is "the mandate of our time" and the time to act is now.

To learn more about this topic, listen to the audio from The SRI Conference session focused on this topic, follow this link: "Agriculture and Climate Change: New Leadership for Impact Investors."

First Affirmative understands that the ways we save, spend, and invest can dramatically influence both the fabric and consciousness of society. We believe that in addition to the benefits of ownership, investors bear responsibility for the impact our money has in the world. Are you making conscious decisions about the impact of your consumer purchase and investment decisions?

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Posted: December 14, 2016